American Sniper (2014)

(On Cable TV, November 2015) In many mays, American Sniper was a genuine phenomenon in contemporary American cinema.  It’s one of the very, very few purely-realistic film to have been a box-office hit, without being a sequel or part of a franchise or incorporating speculative elements.  It’s also, even more remarkably, a box-office hit that made most of its money in the United States, reversing the usual domestic/foreign box-office ratio for blockbusters.  The reasons for both of those oddities quickly becomes obvious when watching the film, which is a conflicted paean to a fallen warrior.  An exchange about sheep, wolves and sheepdogs early on clearly establishes that this is a film aimed at the sheepdogs (or, more cynically, at the sheep thinking they’re sheepdogs), and as such does seem to align with typically conservative values in the culture war that currently dominates American discourse.  American Sniper, directed by old-school legend Clint Eastwood, was one of the few mainstream films to comfort conservatives in their values without necessarily annoying liberals who could appreciate the film’s portrayal of a veteran having trouble coping with the aftermath of his tours.  That the film is reasonably good helps in ensuring its success.  There are certainly plenty of issues with the result, though: Eastwood directs action sequences competently but not exceptionally; protagonist Chris Kyle is portrayed without many of the less-pleasant rough spots that more independent profiles of the man have outlined; the film seems to shy away from the last moments (and drama) of Kyle’s life.  But American Sniper worst reasonably well, provides Bradley Cooper with a terrific role, brings together a lot of issues that have preoccupied Americans for the past decade, and provides a fascinating glimpse into the self-righteous militaristic streak of American culture.  Any irresistible intention to argue about the film’s merit are part of its added appeal.

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